I so didn't want to get involved in this discussion.
When I read through the first few posts on bringing the 'fantastical' back into D&D, I couldn't help but thinking I had seen this all before. This was all stuff I've mentioned numerous times on numerous sites. My whole spiel on why 'Ecology of the Mysterious Creature of Legend' is fun to read but the exact opposite of what I want in my game.
To this end I am in agreement with those who feel that a certain sense of vagueness is key to keeping the mystery of a setting and it's contents intriguing and challenging. But then we get this...
1. Never make monsters "scalable" unless they're basically humanoids with levels like the PCs and so the PCs can tell them apart as characters.
This is spot on. Nothing makes a dragon - no, scratch that, any monster - less interesting than being able to fight it at 1st level and win. It is for this and many other reasons that 4th edition D&D wins the noisms prize for All Time Most Banalifying Game System Ever.
Huh? Why? So, every time you face a dragon of a certain color, size, etc., the players will know the age, roughly the hit points or their maximum potential, how to defend themselves, yadda yadda, another boring dragon.
I've had dragons the size of a medieval english cottage that a smart, well organized and equipped party of 7 PCs ranging from 5-7th level can kill. In the same campaign the players later heard of a dragon that had ravaged the entire countryside and they set out to slay it. They were now about 8-10th level average. When they arrived on the scene they saw barley and wheats fields burnt to ash and learned that the lake the dragon drinks from is now poisoned. Cows and sheep miscarry for a day and a night after the dragon flies over and the healing powers of the local clerics only have half their normal effect. When finally confronted, the dragon was roughly the size of a Great Dane (a la' St. George and the Dragon).
There are tiny frogs in this world that can kill a grown man in seconds and larger ones that result in a mind rash. Scale everything. They will never know what to expect and the abilities of these creature will seem mysterious.
No. You should probably not make a weak dragon that can be killed by three 1st level PCs. Yes, you should make monsters variable in power. Not every legend attributes the same abilities to the same beasts.
2. Finding an NPC cleric willing to heal you is fucking hard and generally involves some creepy religious thing happening. Because miracles are rare.
I don't disagree with this at all. I also don't abide by it on my own world.
Clerical healing is a part of civilization. When you are in civilization, say your home town or a friendly city-state, why not have healing available for a price. This isn't where the mystery is. This is where you're from, where you live. You then leave this safety to face the mysterious outside world. At least that's how I run it most of the time.
3. Make [the players] cross a threshold (a clear in game threshold "Are you sure you wish to travel down the secluded mountain pass") before having them fight the fantastical.
This makes sense. Of course, the fantastic can be all around you and it may be as easy as leaving a bowl of milk with some honey bread in it on your back porch. It all depends upon the needs of the adventure/story/GM/players. Read some myth and folklore for ideas.
4. Recreate monsters - especially the humanoids. Keep them physically and statistically the same, but recreate their culture.
If they are physically and statistically the same but their culture is new that's cool. If they are physically and statistically different but their culture is new that's awesome. You couldn't pay me to use D&D trolls over my trolls. What the heck are those carrot nosed, goofball looking things supposed to be anyway? They sure aren't trolls.
Again, want to get closer to folklore, myth and legend? READ A BOOK ON FOLKLORE MYTH AND LEGEND. And check out the art too. You'll be glad you did.
5. No "chain of humanoid enemies". Goblins are weird fairy tale monsters with their own empire, gnolls are slavering barbarians, jackalmen wear robes and know magic, crowmen are semidemonic and rare, white leopardmen serve a Frazettastyle ice witch and bugbears and hobgoblins and what-all are bizarre unique things you haven't met yet.
Agree in principle but again, not necessarily in execution. If goblins are weird, fairy tale monsters, why do they have an empire at all? At least why do they have one you know about? Don't they just come out from cracks in the floorboards and walls and then return to them when the lights come on?
6. The technique...of providing no standardized monsters or magic items points the way to a game system where the rules of the mundane are known to the players, but the fantastic elements are an idiosyncratic revelation from game to game. Yes, creating the fantastic is hard individual work for the DM. But the alternative, especially with experienced games, is a group of players who ready the oil when they see a troll, who can find out exactly how much every gland in every dead monster corpse is worth, and for whom the only surprise is tactical, not strategic.
We come to the same conclusion, this last paragraph and I but I wonder at how it can be achieved with some of the responses given to the earlier questions. It's almost like saying, "Do it differently as long as it's largely the same." This has always been one of my biggest issues with D&D. I've always felt that the game as written reinforces this attitude somehow.
With a few exceptions, a lot of the blog posts I read on things you can do to jazz up D&D amount to 'paint your goblins purple instead of green! Wow! Mind blowing!' or other mild variations on basic themes. Giving Orcs a culture based on the Huns is interesting but then, what are your Huns like? Orcs? Why not come up with an unusual take on Orcs or not have Orcs at all. Find some mythical creature not normally used in D&D who are attributed with strange abilities in their stories and make them the standard for humanoid enemy aggression.
Anyway, just my two coppers. I don't have a majorly vested interest so it bugs me that I actually felt the need to post this. I must be getting old and crabby.
Back to leaping tall buildings...